Dr. Jugnu Jain, Co-Founder and CEO of Sapien Biosciences, has been selected to participate in the Global Entrepreneur Summit (GES), 3-5th June 2019, at the Hague in Netherlands. Our biobank will represent India in the area of Health at the summit. We have also been invited to the select discussion with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric D. Hargan and CEO of Royal Philips, Frans van Houten, on Health Policy and Innovation.
Sapien will be showcased in front of a select group of decision makers, including funders, founders, experts and policymakers. Leading American, European, Asian and global companies alongside institutional investors such as APG and PGGM have committed to take part in the GES.
As GES website states – it gathers governments, the private sector and a powerful partner network to turn challenges into business opportunities worldwide. It is co-hosted by two of the world’s most innovative countries, the United States and the Netherlands.
2019 is the 9th edition of GES, which will focus on global opportunities for the next wave of entrepreneur-led innovation in scalable enterprises. We have reached out to other Healthpreneurs at the summit and look forward to meeting them.
NIPER Hyderabad had a star-studded Academia-Industry Synergy day on 23rd Aug, 2018. I was asked to moderate apanel on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I chose to focus on the aspect of driving innovation already at NIPER-H towards commercialization. Invited Dr. Ashutosh of NIPER to identify where the gaps are, and put them to a panel of seasoned people drawn from industry in different areas of expertise spanning from technology transfer, chemistry, determining cell and animal model activity, development of pharmaceutical properties etc.
In the picture above, taken with the Director of NIPER, from left to right, my expert panellists were
- a) Sreenivas, ex-P&G, ex-Lilly, who started Sreeni Labs 11 years ago,
- b) Suresh Poosala, ex-BMS who just started OncoSeek Bio,
- c)Myself, ex-Vertex, who co-founded Sapien Biosciences and Saarum Sciences,
- d) Shashi Bala Singh, Director of NIPER-Hyd
- e) Anil Wali, FIIT
- f) Hemant Bhutani, ex-NIPER-Mohali, BMS-BBRC
- g) Ashutosh Kumar, ex-NIPER-Mohali, Associate Professor at NIPER-H
Dr. Suman Kapur of BITS-Pilani Hyd, had to leave early but she shared her challenges and experience of developing point of care diagnostic devices.
Many useful suggestions came from not just the panel but also students and members of the audience. These will be compiled and used to continue the dialogue with NIPER-H to see how best to implement them.
Attended Regional Young investigator meeting, Hyderabad (18th – 19th August, 2018) at University of Hyderabad. Sapien Biosciences presented importance of primary human patient cultures, especially spheroid (3D) for drug testing in Glioblastoma multiforme. We have identified molecules that demonstrated differential anti-cancer activity between 2D and 3D cultures in functional readouts including cancer stem cells.
Co-Founder & CEO
Today, there is an increasing demand for high quality, personalized treatments for diverse pathologies including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, obesity and diabetes. The molecular research that underlies new treatment development is largely propelled by material and informational support provided by bio banks.However, putting bio banking on the map of the healthcare system calls for the proactive participation of medical institutions, community medical centers and policy makers. Though the sector is still growing, a handful of women entrepreneurs are leading this change from the front. Dr.Jugnu Jain, Co-Founder and CEO, Sapien Biosciences, is one such woman, who has been changing the landscape of bio banking in India, while breaking several stereotypes.
With 26 years of professional experience in the U.S. and UK, Dr.Jugnu decided to take the biggest risk of her life by quitting her job at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a top biotech firm and establishing her own venture in India. She always had the desire to use her skills and experience for the welfare of the Indian population. Fortunately, Dr.Jugnu happened to reconnect with her former Vertex colleague Sreevatsa Natarajan, who was planning to start a biotechnology firm in Hyderabad. As their ideas resonated, they co-founded Sapien Biosciences – India’s first commercial bio bank in 2012, with a vision to be a premier global biotech firm that employs human translational platforms for the discovery and development of novel diagnostics, bio markers and drugs with better clinical outcomes.
“We started a totally new concept in India. My co-founder really helped get the venture off the ground; without him I would n’t have made such a big decision,” recalls Dr. Jugnu.“Even though I had wanted to create a world-class Indian bio bank and had several discussions with entrepreneurs at TiE – Boston, it was a huge leap of faith to return to India after 26 years abroad to start the company without anything in hand. Sreevatsa’s commitment to the project gave me confidence to take the leap.”
Overcoming the Hurdles
A post doctorate from Harvard University, UK, Dr.Jugnu’s major challenge was lack of funds during the initial phase of the entrepreneurial journey,as most of the funds and fund houses in India are actually private equity, rather than VCs, especially in life sciences. A majority of them prefer to make safe investments in companies, which have already shown proof of concept and generated revenues. The government has introduced various funds for new entrepreneurs in the life sciences sector, but there are many regulations that limit access to these funds. “We did not receive any government grants until last year when we won a GITA-DST award. We have also had to battle the perception that we should not be given grants, especially government funds, simply due to our partnership with Apollo Hospitals,” claims Dr.Jugnu. This stereotype is changing and she hopes collaborations and grants will be more accessible in the future.
- “As an entrepreneur, you should be flexible and willing to work under sub optimal conditions, often with limited resources”
Her experience of working at Vertex enabled Dr.Jugnu to contact many potential clients, understand their work culture & requirements, and provide them the right solution. She has deep contacts & networks in the industry globally and connects with them regularly to gain advice & business leads. These contacts have enabled her to take Sapien Biosciences to international platforms and build partnerships globally.
Dr.Jugnu never learnt the habit of saying ‘No’to any work, which does increase her work load. Her father’s transferable job and her own education across many cities has helped make Dr.Jugnu a very adaptable person, who can handle change with a calm and positive attitude. She asserts,“As an entrepreneur,you should be flexible and willing to work under sub-optimal conditions,often with limited resources; these things are easier for me to handle as I have lived in different countries under different conditions”.
Her co-founder’s exit from the business last year left her with additional responsibilities. But, as we know, Dr. Jugnu is a strong woman and her dictionary does not have the word ‘impossible’ in it. She has simply worked harder along with her experienced management team and learnt the financial and compliance aspects from Sreevats a to shoulder the additional burden capably.
Dr.Jugnu does not believe in the term ‘woman entrepreneur’ and asserts that the playing field should be level for men and women and we should encourage risk-taking, irrespective of gender. She considers herself first and foremost a professional, taking pride in being a scientist, and then only a woman.“Only during my MSc, I was picked on and harassed as I was the only girl in my entire class.But everywhere else,in India, the UK and USA, I either had or was able to build multi-cultural environments that respected expertise and knowledge over and above gender, caste, nationality,etc,”says Dr.Jugnu. Moreover, her family always motivated and supported her during thick and thin. She strongly believes that there is no separate work and home life.“We have only one life. If things don’t go well in the home life, then that impacts our work life and vice versa. So it’s best if we can bring harmony between the two,” adds Dr.Jugnu. On this note, she tries to take short vacations now and then, to explore new places in India and abroad.
The need to stay abreast of the technological advancements in life sciences and the desire to enhance her understanding drive Dr.Jugnu towards reading technical journals, participating in conferences, writing blogs and forming networking forums in life sciences. Managing a one-of-a-kind business, hiring and training people, as well as establishing global partnerships, give her immense satisfaction and joy and add more meaning to her life. Two diagnostic tests have already been launched that help in optimizing treatment for cardiovascular and breast cancer patients she says, and more innovative diagnostics are in development at Sapien. For motivation, Dr.Jugnu advises new entrepreneurs to follow Vivekananda’s writings on work ethics,the biography of MarieCurie on singularity of purpose, and the Stanford commencement address given by Steve Jobs on setting goals for one’s life.
Excited to share that our Biobank at Sapien Biosciences and the patient cancer-derived cell models developed by Saarum Sciences Private Limited were covered by India Today as part of their COVER STORY devoted to innovation in India in the fight against Cancer (26th June issue). Kudos to Damayanti Datta for putting together a detailed summary for lay people to better understand the concepts and buzz words doing the rounds, and to India Today for in-depth coverage of science and healthcare. Big Thanks to Aroon Puri for citing us in the EDITOR’S NOTE as well.
NIPER here held a Pharma Industry Summit on 24th March 2017, bringing together many govt, academic, industry and trade groups to speak about life sciences entrepreneurship in Hyd. It was a great initiative by Dr. Nanduri who himself brings many years of industrial experience to NIPER.
I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on “Start Up and Entrepreneurship in Life Sciences : Challenges and Way Forward”. Our panel consisted of two academics : Dr. Suman Kapoor of BITS Pilani Hyd who has brought out a device to determine TB infection much faster, and Dr. Madhusudhan of CCMB who is currently spearheading CCMB as an incubator for Life Sciences industry. Dr. Balaji Bhyravbhatla of Hylasco, a serial entrepreneur, Dr. Swaroop Vakkalanka of Incozen with several licensing deals under his belt, and myself as a co-founder of Sapien Biosciences represented LS Industry.
Each panelist spoke from their experience and shared some of their advice such as getting sufficient experience in one’s field before embarking on entrepreneurship, assessing your market often to manage risk, knowing your investor as well as your competitors, maintaining a diary of ideas and vetting them with experienced people, not being too possessive of one’s ideas, being willing to back out if timing is not right, forming teams of 3-4 people where 1 member is not a scientist etc.
There were many questions from the audience which made for a lively interaction.
Key action items that emerged from the panel were to
a) Form a LS group and hold a monthly networking meeting rotating at different forums several of which were offered immediately – CCMB, BITS campus, NIPER, Madhapur. A WA group will be created soon.
b) Create a comprehensive directory of LS companies in Hyd area
I noted that I knew all the panelists! This used to be common in LS meetings at TiE-Boston but it was nice that it finally happened in Hyderabad, a city I moved to 5 years ago.
In picture from L to R: Mr S Reddy (Registrar NIPER), Dr. S Nanduri (Professor, NIPER), Dr. J Jain (CEO, Sapien), Dr. S Vakkalanka (CEO, Incozen), Dr S Kapoor (Professor BIT Pilani Hyd), Dr. B Bhyravbhatla (CEO, Hylasco), Dr. Madhusudhan (Professor, CCMB).
1st Floor, AIMSR Building,
Apollo Health City,
Hyderabad 500 096
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